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By Oliver Milman
It may have started little over a year ago, but Sydney-based Explore Engage is already among the world’s leading augmented reality businesses.
Started by Scott O’Brien and Paul Kouppas, the company creates 3D experiences across web and mobile, selling its services to advertisers. Augmented reality is defined as a real time animation superimposed on your real time view of the world and is usually performed through a camera device.
O’Brien spoke to StartupSmart on how the business is attempting to push the boundaries in this emerging area.
What gave you the idea for the business?
I met Paul playing sport and we came up with the idea over a few beers. He was lecturing in augmented reality and I said we should team up, with me as the sales and marketing person.
We drew up a business plan, which took three or four months to develop. We bounced a lot of ideas off clients and asked a lot of questions. That helped define the company because tech refines every three months and it requires a lot of work to keep up with the industry, not to mention lead it.
What made you decide there was a market for the business?
We realised that email open rates are 20% but people respond to pictures. The industry is even more powerful now with smartphones.
When we started, there were four or five specialised AR companies – now there are about 30. We’re unique in that we focus on AR on web and mobile, while others just focus on mobile.
We also saw there was an opportunity in eyewear, where you can interact with images you see through eyewear as you move about.
For clients, it’s no longer just about a picture and price of a product. AR is more pull than push for consumers. We target eCommerce, but it’s useful for other things, such as teaching you how to change a tyre with an app.
Who was your first client?
McDonald’s was our first client. We attended a social media function they were at and they asked us to pitch.
Other digital agencies were pricing out of the same ballpark as us because they didn’t specialise in AR, but we already had the code ready to go.
McDonald’s were very concerned we were a start-up, but when you are able to show them extremely complex stuff straight away, it makes it easier.
They wanted 3D assets for campaigns that allows customers to use emoticons to show how hungry they are and share through Facebook.
Since then we’ve done work for CommBank, which was an interactive suburb feature that you can access by using an app with a print advert.
Did you build the system yourself?
We built our own program, which is proprietary but nor restrictive. I put $25,000 into the business to help build it.
What’s been the hardest part of starting up?
Teaching people what the technology is. There are an overwhelming and infinite amount of applications and it can leave people’s heads spinning. We’re pioneering a new way of life, in a way.
Once you show people how it works, then the penny drops. It’s hilarious to look at some of our old Powerpoints. We didn’t really have any case studies to draw upon and we didn’t have time to sharpen up the graphics.
Now we have a dozen or so apps that we can show people. People realised it can be monetised now, too.
How are you viewed now in the marketplace?
We are already considered world leaders. We’ve worked hard in supplying the best of breed.
Don’t many clients see AR as a pointless fad?
Less and less so, actually. I heard more of those dismissals to start with, and there are always people who flap their gums, but developers are now getting incentivised and the apps are getting ROI.
AR is so broad now that digital agencies are starting to do it and clients are expecting it.
What are your future plans for the business?
We are launching into the Middle East shortly and then London and New York by the third quarter of this year. We’ve been offered office space in Palo Alto with a strategic partner.
We made $1.4 million in our first year and we will at least double, or maybe triple, that this year.
We are looking at utility apps that will impact people’s lives, such as eyewear that shows AR pedestrian crossings for people with Parkinson’s. A whole new landscape is being pioneered – two to three years down the track there will be eyewear that can subtitle conservations between you and a Japanese person.
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